‘Political parties must promote greater participation of women in politics’

By Fiona Mpofu

ZIMBABWE’S female politicians have been urged to contest in national elections and stop piggy-bagging on proportional representation.

In wide ranging interviews gender activists, politicians and lawyers opined that women should not depend on the quota system for entry into public office and challenge for their space in the political arena.

The quota system is an affirmative action that was introduced by the 2013 constitution and seeks to empower women politicians, by awarding them 60 seats in the National Assembly based on proportional representation.

Section 124 (b) of the 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution reads:

“For the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected under a Parliamentary list system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces”.

This provision has seen prominent female politicians, especially from the opposition side, declining to   actively contest for parliamentary seats.

According to the Gender Links report on the 2018 the number of female legislators dropped from 34% to 31% regardless of proportional representation, and the number of women in the local government declined from 16% to 14%.

In Local government plebiscite, 6 694 candidates from 38 parties contested, of these 1 156 were women and 5 538 were men, thus women had 17% while man consisted 83% of the contestants.

In the presidential election, Thokozani Khupe of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) garnered a paltry 45 573 votes, constituting a mere 0.4 percent of total votes and Joyce Mujuru of the Zimbabwe People First got a lowly 12 877 votes.

Judith Ncube, provincial Minister for Bulawayo Judith Ncube noted that Zimbabwe is far from achieving SADC’s 50/50 representation in parlaiment.

The minister accused women of sabotaging themselves.

Said Ncube: “When we look at the higher level politics, we usually say women really pull each other down, but I say let’s empower them so that they notice the importance of the higher level politics where policies that affect us, women, are made”.

Ncube added that women fail to contest in elections due to financial challenges.

“Women are usually hindered by the fact that they do not have money to challenge men who were empowered from birth. I say this because if you look at it properly you will realise that when children are growing up they are told this can be done by boys, this is for men and when we do so we empower the boy child and leave the girl child behind,” Ncube said.

MDC Alliance Legislator Ruth Labode, a proportional representation beneficiary, concurred with Ncube saying: “Women encounter financial challenges especially during the primary elections where men put in money and they defeat us”.

On her part, Lisa Muronde, National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Student Representative Council (SRC) Vice President, opined that the lack of female role models in politics has culminated in women dependence on the quota system.

“We have few women in politics already, when you need more women in politics you need someone who is already there,” said Muronde.

Sithabile Dewa, executive director at Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Empowerment (WALPE) accused male politicians of using the quota system to coerce women to support them.

“The problems come in our situation where there are no clear guidelines on the form and nature that the system must take. Ours did not have clear procedures and minimum conditions on who benefits from the system leading it to be abused by political male leaders,” said Dewa.

She went on to call for the engagement of traditional and religious leaders in efforts to empower women.

“It is also critical to engage traditional and religious leaders as their spaces are usually used to perpetuate patriarchy and inequality,” Dewa said.

Kucaca Phulu, Member of Parliament for Nkulumane demanded that political parties should ensure gender equality and equity when drawing up members of parliament candidates.

 “We must promote women to participate in Constituencies and demand that each political party has a sizeable number of women candidates as we try to reach the equal representation of both sexes in our parliament,” Phulu said.

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